Holidays 2009: Graphic Novels

Reading material for everyone on your list.

By Paul F. Montgomery
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 1, 2009

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Once considered a niche item, modern comics make great gifts for just about anybody. Here are a few suggestions for your more particular Pollyannas.

For your cousin Beth, just out of prison:

Now that Beth’s interests are a matter of public record (setting things on fire, drug trafficking), picking out a gift is much easier than it used to be. Criminal: The Deluxe Edition (Marvel, $49.99) collects the first three arcs of the noir anthology by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Whether you want to cater to Beth’s vices or scare her straight, Criminal represents crime and punishment at its pulpiest. It’s a collage of hard-knock lives, from the pettiest grifters to the coldest killers. The deluxe edition also includes Brubaker’s essays on favorite crime flicks and extensive galleries of Phillips’ painted cover designs. Don’t bother wrapping it. Just leave it out and she’ll make off with it along with your car keys and the pie you’ve left cooling on the windowsill.

For your Uncle Chris, the conspiracy theorist:

Uncle Chris has dedicated much of his adult life (and a basement wall) to the mystery surrounding the Kennedy assassination. He may possess three charts illustrating the trajectory of the “magic bullet,” but he might not have The Umbrella Academy: Dallas(Dark Horse, $17.95), which offers a new solution to the curious events of November 22, 1963. Sure, a team of assassins sent from the future by a sentient goldfish seems outlandish, but Uncle Chris is desperate for any new leads. The revisionist mayhem extends well beyond the grassy knoll, notably to the jungles of Vietnam, where Vietcong vampires creep out of spider holes. Rife with black humor, laser beams and talking chimps, this second installment of the ongoing series by creators Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba is just weird enough to distract Uncle Chris from those radio signals he’s been monitoring since April.

For Harold, your academic advisor:

David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp(Pantheon, $29.95) ought to be on everybody’s wish list, but it’s especially appropriate for curmudgeonly old art professors. Industry stalwart Mazzucchelli’s first self-contained graphic novel focuses on the insecurities of an architect who’s never actually built anything. Asterios Polyp is a self-absorbed academic, a man whose arrogance has always gotten in the way of his relationships. Imagine if Woody Allen scripted a Chuck Jones cartoon. It’s a book about perception, and every element, from the alternating design styles to the word balloons and lettering help tell the story. Like Watchmen and other perennial favorites of the medium, it doesn’t just benefit from multiple readings, it demands them. 

For Ian, your annoying vegan roommate:

Ian isn’t really that bad of a guy, but he needs to relax and stop posting those pamphlets on the fridge. Grab him a copy of Chew, Volume One (Image, $9.99). Like most of Image’s volume ones, it’s priced dirt cheap, just under 10 bucks. The series focuses on Philly police officer Tony Chu and his bizarre relationship with food. No matter what he eats, be it salad or spare ribs, Tony experiences the food’s history in visceral detail. Every forkful of steak is a sensory trip through the slaughterhouse. When the FDA learns of Tony’s cibopathic potential, he’s enlisted in a special task force where he can take more than just a bite out of crime. Written by John Layman and drawn by Rob Guillory, it’s 2009’s strangest and most inventive new series. Ian might consider it a fascinating treatise on our relationship with the food we eat. Or he might throw up in his moccasins.

For Jordan (or is it Morgan?), the niece you’ve met, like, twice:

If you thought that adapting L. Frank Baum required a drugged-out Judy Garland, consider an alternative. Hands down, the easiest purchase for any child this year is the comic adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Marvel, $29.99), written by Eric Shanower and drawn by Skottie Young. Marvel was wise to print this in a large hardcover format perfect for reading on the carpet with a fistful of animal crackers. Young was the ideal choice to revitalize these familiar characters with his whimsical and expressive pencils. It’s a big, beautiful book that ought to remain a family favorite for years, dog-eared and held together with tape. Thankfully, Shanower and Young are already at work on the next installment, The Marvelous Land of Oz , which should be collected by next Christmas.

For Craig, who wakes up in the bathtub a lot:

Craig clearly has a problem, and there’s no need to be subtle about it. The Alcoholic (Vertigo, $19.99) by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspeil is exactly what you think it is, a semi-autobiographical tale of substance abuse and lessons learned. It’s also hilarious and lurid and fucked up, as any cautionary tale should be. Then again, it also reinforces the notion that coke-sniffling booze hounds tend to make good novelists. That could send the wrong message. Maybe you should just pick up a copy for yourself instead. It’s really good. Once Craig sobers up, he can find out for himself.

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